+Can disengage from blocks with ease
+Showed signs of advanced hand usage as a sophomore
-Character issues, coming off suspension for punching Michigan’s Taylor Lewan
-Overweight for 4-3 end, but underweight for 3-4 end at 280lbs
-Will over pursue the ball carrier
-Tight hips can make tackling difficult
-Mediocre quickness off the ball and acceleration
-Related to Vernon Gholston
Michigan State defensive end William Gholston (sadly, the cousin of Vernon Gholston) should be a first round pick next year. He is loaded with talent, and he has been making the most of it for most of his college career.
Greg Hardy, Antonio Smith, Will Smith, and Jason Pierre Paul. Those guys are the only starting defensive linemen in the NFL who play at an awkward weight between 276lbs and 284lbs. In short, it’s an awkward playing weight that Gholston plays at right now; seemingly too bulky for 4-3 end, not bulky enough for 3-4 end. Gholston is 280lbs. There isn’t much use to being that size. Guys who are that big are typically too small/not strong enough to use their strength to dominate on a down by down basis, yet not small/quick enough to use their speed to dominate on a down by down basis. Gholston is no exception. I personally would recommend to Gholston that he adds 10lbs, simply because his height makes him look skinny on film, and there is clearly room for bulk on his frame. An extra 7lbs would make his body very similar to Julius Peppers; a bulky 4-3 end with tremendous height who is excellent against the run. I’m not saying Gholston will be as good as Peppers, but I expect them to have a very similar role in similar defenses in the NFL. Gholston’s 6’7 body is really desirable, and that length gives him potential with pass rush moves, and he has above average speed for his size. Gholston has excellent measurables, but he might need to change his weight for success in the NFL
Gholston has put up amazing stats throughout his career. In 2011, as a true sophomore, he put up a ridiculous 70 tackles to go along with 5 sacks on the season. I can’t think of any defensive end I’ve ever scouted who put up 70 tackles in a season. Truly remarkable. He really got hot toward the end of the season as well, getting 58 of his tackles and all of his sacks in his final 9 starts (he was suspended for the first Wisconsin game). He had an unbelievable two week stretch against Nebraska and Minnesota in which he got 29 tackles and 1.5 sacks in two games. A defensive end getting 15 tackles one week and 14 the next is truly unbelievable. However, he was extremely inconsistent. Gholston had 4 tackles or fewer in 8 of 13 games. His inconsistency was a problem, but, overall, his stats are stupendous.
Gholston is an adequate pass rusher, but he has the potential to improve. First of all, I have always loved guys who can use their hands to shed off blocks (I loved Aldon Smith out of college). For most of the season, his pass rush moves and hand usage were quite raw. He did a pretty good job of using his hands to shed off blocks on run plays, and he showed some signs of excellent hand usage in the Georgia game, but, for the most part, his mediocre hand usage hurt him as a pass rusher. He used a bull rush on almost every play, while incorporating the occasional spin move, which he won’t be too effective with in the NFL thanks to his tight hips. However, I feel that, if Gholston were to improve his hand usage and add some pass rush moves, the sky is the limit for him rushing the quarterback. He has tremendous length thanks to his 6’7 frame, and excellent length and strength are the key components of the effectiveness of most pass rush moves. If he were to use his long arms to get himself into better position on a play by play basis, he could be a leverage master that can get sacks as well as draw holding calls. On the down side, thanks to his tight hips, it’s unlike that he will be able to use moves like the spin move in the NFL. Also, like many tall players, he doesn’t accelerate too quickly, and he probably doesn’t profile too well as a 3-4 defensive end because he lacks the quickness and change of direction skills to be effective with defensive line stunts. Overall, he is a pretty raw pass rusher right now, but he has some potential if he improves his hand usage.
Gholston is a phenomenal run stopper. What really separates Gholston from the rest as a run stopper is his incredible ability to disengage from blocks. Gholston is only average at shedding blocks, and he doesn’t exactly live in the opponent’s backfield. However, as soon as the ball (or the ball carrier) crosses the line of scrimmage, Gholston disengages from his block with incredible ease and immediately begins to pursue the ball. One of the things you look for in a defensive linemen is whether or not he can make tackles in traffic, i.e., making tackles between the tackles while being blocked. Gholston has never attempted to make one of those tackles in his entire life. If the ball is next to him, he disengages from the block and just makes the tackle. Offensive linemen are completely helpless. His incredibly long arms result in a significant distance being kept from him and the offensive lineman, often to a point where there are situations in which blockers can’t even reach Gholston’s chest, or even the sleeves on his jerseys. Gholston’s arms are so long that it is actually tough to hold him, because it’s tough to even reach his jersey if his arms are extended. Gholston’s ability to disengage from blocks, which he does better than any defensive lineman I have ever seen, results in tons of tackles (but not necessarily many TFL’s), which is why his 70 tackles sophomore year are more tackles than any defensive end I can recall scouting. Gholston is phenomenal in pursuit, showcasing amazing long speed (but poor acceleration), and giving him the ability to make surprising tackles from behind or even occasionally running across the entire field to make a tackle. His excellent speed gives him remarkable range for a defensive end, making pitch plays and other outside runs toward his side essentially impossible. Gholston also possesses solid strength, and he will incorporate some moves such as the rip move to create penetration against the run, which resulted in a respectable (albeit unspectacular) 16 TFL’s last season, 11 of which were on run plays.
For the most part, Gholston has excellent instincts. From an instincts standpoint, the only flaws I have seen from seen from him is a habit of over pursuing the ball carrier and being out of position for cutback pursuit. He makes those mistakes often, but, in all other cases, he has great awareness of the ball, he takes great angles to the ball carrier, he has good awareness of screens and is rarely out of position on screen passes, and he has good awareness of the quarterback.
Gholston has some problems as an open field tackler. His hips are just incredibly tight, so “juking him out” is pretty easy and he absolutely cannot defeat quicker running backs with excellent change of direction skills. He puts up good effort as a tackler, and when he is successful in wrapping up, he has the strength to bring down almost any ball carrier, but his hip tightness and lack of change of direction skills make wrapping up very, very hard. On the upside, much (though not all) of what he loses as an open field tackler thanks to tight hips is made up for with his extremely long arms. His long arms allow him to reel in ball carriers at times when the tackle seems lost. But, overall, Gholston is a mediocre open field tackler.
Gholston has some character questions, largely stemming from this incident. He was suspended for the Wisconsin game for what he did against Michigan. What he did there was pretty inexcusable (though not as bad as the Brandon Spikes eye gouge, which deserved more of a suspension than half of a game. Still fuming over that), and it warranted a one game suspension. Still, Gholston’s on field effort seems to be above average, so I’d like to think that he’ll get over his dirty play, and the character questions could fade away. To be honest, I feel there are reasons to question his maturity, but I don’t see a reason to question his dedication or work ethic, and the latter is more likely to have an affect on an NFL career. On the downside, he is related to Vernon Gholston. It’s generally good to have football in your blood, but there isn’t really anything good to say about Vernon Gholston. Let’s hope the “bust” gene can’t/wasn’t passed down to William.
Ultimately, I think William Gholston will be a solid NFL player. At times, he has looked like a future star during his career at Michigan State. We’ll see if he makes the most of his potential as a pass rusher. If nothing else, he should be one of the better run stopping defensive ends in the NFL for years to come.
NFL Comparison: Julius Peppers minus 2 to 3 sacks a year (which is still pretty good).
Grade: 96 (worthy of a mid to early first round pick)
Projection: 95 (will be a mid first round pick)